The Shell Line by Gill Moon

Trudging across the beach in the half light of dawn I am aware of the shingle crunching beneath my feet. Sea worn pebbles slide and meld together creaking under the soles of my walking boots. Each step leaves a footprint that charts my journey along the shore, evidence of my visit etched in the ground, clues to my presence for those who come after me. 

Ahead the sea stirs lazily beneath a silvery sky, dark and mercurial it rises and falls with the rhythm and intensity of sleep. Gentle waves caress the shoreline bringing with them tiny fragments from the deep. Discarded shells, mermaid purses, and scraps of pink and green seaweed hint at the diversity of life beyond this beach.

I bend down to pick up a whelk shell from the strandline, its bleached white casing a stark contrast to the amber and golden hues of the beach. I turn it over in my hand so that its flatter side is facing down obscuring the shells entrance. It’s bulbous shape fills my palm spiralling in three distinct sections upwards to touch my fingers, its smooth exterior wet with the sea and cold to the touch. Tiny ridges run along its length, etched in the surface, visible but not deep enough to feel. A jagged hole gapes in the top of the first chamber allowing me to see inside the whelks home, cleaned and scoured by the elements, all traces of its former owner expunged.  The calcified casing a fragile and broken reminder of the animal that once inhabited it. 

I place the shell carefully back on the beach adding it to the end of a long line of similar shells which stretches across the shingle in a sweep of curves and spirals.  An unexpected addition to this wild beach, the shell line has been a feature here for as long as I can remember. Created by two friends in times of illness when the beach became a place of healing and the line a symbol of their journey. It is tended regularly and morphs and changes with the passing of time as transient as the beach upon which it sits. Stories of man and nature intertwined in a testament to life and friendship. 

The beach is littered with such stories. They give us a glimpse of other’s interactions with this place, of wild lives and moments in time we cannot know but can only imagine from the elements left behind. These things connect us with those who have gone before and help tell the story of this constantly changing landscape. 

As the sun rises and spills its warming light across the beach I turn for home, leaving my footprints in the shingle, a tiny addition to this coastal story.